On Egypt (2)

Another post from IDN

Yes, communists should “be calling for workers — and all of the working class, including the unemployed, students, youth, retireds, ‘housewives’ — to organize themselves wherever they are, at work, where they live, in their schools and universities and colleges, in the ‘community’: organize into autonomous assemblies to discuss and decide what needs to be done, and which direction to move the uprising into” – but what direction should they point to? Self-organization doesn’t occur for the sake of itself but to obtain a goal. Right now, the overriding goal is the removal of Mubarak. Hated as he may be by the workers of Egypt, this is no specific working class demand, so this goal does not require from the workers that they organize themselves autonomously. There may be some autonomous organisation going on, like for the defense of working class neighborhoods and the apprioriation of use values but we have almost no information on that. If somebody does, please let us know where we can find it.

I think what communists should say in Egypt and elsewhere is that, despite its symbolic importance, the departure of Mubarak will solve nothing for the working class, that the horrible conditions that pushed them to this fight will continue to worsen, that the fight against them must continue and deepen.

The inhumane conditions of the working class (in the wide sense we must give to this term), aggravated by the crisis, were clearly the starting point of the uprising in Tunesia and the riots in neighboring Algeria. They had a clear working class content. This struggle to survive was subdued (for now) after the army ousted the hated dictator and allowed some democratic reforms. But that was not a victory for the working class. Certainly, the new regime will be careful in its dealings with the working population and that will allow the latter some more breathing room, but the conditions which sparked the revolt, the poverty, unemployment and corruption will not improve, quite the contrary. The real victory in Tunesia was the overcoming of fear, the experience of collective struggle which will not be forgotten.

The struggle in Egypt was different in that it, from the very beginning, not only expressed the refusal of the working class to accept its conditions but also a desire of a large part of the capitalist class in Egypt for regime-change. Theirs is a struggle over how to manage the country, in other words, how to manage the exploitation. A decisive part of Egypt’s capitalist class wants a more modern, more flexible management and is using the revolt of the working class to make itself indispensable for the restauration of order, and is opportunistically supported by the Islamo-fascists who have their own power dreams. With the support of the media they try to reduce the events to just that, a question of personnel change. They make of the departure of Mubarak the fetish of the movement: once accomplished, everything will become magically ok and we’ll all go back home, back to the factories and offices, then the cleanup crews will come and everything will be normal again.

Most likely they will win and Mubarak will have to go. It’s clear that his continuation at the helm is against the interests of the capitalist class in Egypt and elsewhere. That he hasn’t gone already can only be because the army, the backbone of the state, hasn’t told him yet. Why not? One possible explanation is that it might not want the movement to end on a note of triumph and self-confidence. If the real victory for the working class in Tunis and Cairo is the experience of having overcome fear and isolation in confronting the state, the deciders have maybe decided to weaken that memory with new fear and dispersment. Maybe that is why they let the thugs attack the demonstrators. Maybe they want to see the protests weaken first before they save the day by ousting Mubarak, for the sake of future discipline.

I admit that this is speculative. All this is complicated by the fact that the removal of a dictator with such an extensive network of patronage is no easy matter. But it has been done before and it will happen in Egypt too and this will most likely end the revolt for now.
This will not be a surprise. What we’re seeing in Egypt is not a revolution, but the appearance of cracks in the solid capitalist façade, cracks that are being glued with democracy but that will nevertheless widen and multiply, as capitalism’s crisis deepens. The reason why the fetishization of the departure of Mubarak is so successful is not just the weight of ideology on the working class. There is not a crystal clear working class consciousness beneath that weight. If the working class would be convinced of its own power and its goal, it would not look for support outside of it, to the army, to Islam, to democracy. It looks to them because it feels weak, atomized. Certainly, the revolts in the Maghreb-countries, in which proletarians massively overcame their fear of confronting capital ans its state, and overcame their feeling of impotence in collective struggle, are an important, even historic step in a revolutionary direction. But communists have to be clear that the democratic adjustments to the management of capital in these countries are no more than a reshuffling of the furniture on the Titanic. The new leaders are our enemies just as much as the old ones, the struggle against exploitation continues.


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